Born and bred in the heart of the western wilderness

by chuckofish

The title of today’s post refers, of course, to…the Wizard of Oz, who you will remember was from Kansas.

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Well, today is the 155th anniversary of the day Kansas was admitted as our 34th state in 1861.

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Abolitionist Free-staters from New England and pro-slavery settlers from Missouri had rushed to the territory when it was officially opened to settlement by the U.S. government in 1854 in order to determine whether Kansas would become a free state or a slave state. The area became a hotbed of violence and chaos in its early days as these forces collided, thus earning it the name Bleeding Kansas. The abolitionists eventually prevailed. Kansas entered the Union as a free state and the Civil War followed.

After the Civil War the population of Kansas grew rapidly when waves of immigrants turned the prairie into farmland. It also became the center of what we think of as “the Wild West,” what with cattle drives on the Chisholm Trail moving through the state to railheads there. Cattle towns like Abilene, Wichita and Dodge City, flourished between 1866 and 1890 as railroads reached towns suitable for gathering and shipping cattle. All the famous gunslingers and lawmen like Wild Bill Hickok, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp worked on one side of the law or another in Kansas.

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Things eventually calmed down in the state and since the turn of the 20th century people have generally regarded it as one of those states where not much happens.

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We who live here in flyover country know that is decidedly not true. Kansas is a big, beautiful state where the weather can be quite severe and the sky is large.

"The High Plains" by THomas Hart Benton , 1958

“The High Plains” by Thomas Hart Benton, 1958

Lots of famous (and infamous) people have started out life in Kansas. For instance, did you know that Mabel Walker Willebrandt (1889-1963) was from Kansas? She was the U.S. Assistant Attorney General from 1921-1929 and the highest-ranking woman in the federal government at the time and first woman to head the Tax Division.

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She vigorously prosecuted bootleggers during Prohibition–in fact, she was the one who came up with the idea that illegally earned income was subject to income tax. That’s how they got Capone, you know. She is one of those amazing women who nobody knows about–probably because she was a Republican and campaigned vigorously for Herbert Hoover.

Anyway, I watched the movie Dodge City (1939) with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland fairly recently, so I will recommend instead watching Red River (1948)–a movie about a cattle drive on the Chisholm Trail which ends dramatically in Abilene, Kansas. It is not one of my favorite westerns, but it is well worth watching for John Wayne, Walter Brennan and Montgomery Clift, who is surprisingly effective as a cowboy.

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Well, as you know, that is how my mind works.

P.S. Did you know that Home On the Range is the state song of Kansas? How freaking awesome is that?!

Have a good weekend!